It feels like director and writer M. Night Shyamalan has gone through an almost imperceptible change over the past couple of decades. Probably best known for the twists in his earlier movies, like the Sixth Sense and The Village, where the reveal is saved for the last act, he now likes to get them out of the way at the start. The mystery boxes in films like Old and now Knock at the Cabin get opened early, and the fun comes from seeing the characters react to the Pandora-like threats that come out of them. An M. Night Shyamalan experience is less about being tricked, and more about answering the question of ‘what if?’.
One thing definitely hasn’t changed with M. Night Shyamalan: his erratic quality. It can feel like the Star Trek movie rule sometimes: every other movie he does is half-baked. Unbreakable and Split were great; Glass, not so much. It had us checking his IMDb filmography to see whether we were due a good one. Old was his last movie, and that was very much one to avoid, at least from our perspective. So, Knock at the Cabin should find M. Night Shyamalan in fine fettle, and would you believe it, it is one of his better ones.
Knock at the Cabin, like most M. Night Shyamalan films, is extremely hard to review. You need to set up ground rules with the reader: we’re not going to spoil anything that would detract from your enjoyment of the movie. But since we’re dancing around a reveal that’s made in the first act, well, that doesn’t give us a lot of rope to work with.
What we can say is that Knock at the Cabin immediately settles into its stakes. Any backstory it plans to explore is in (extremely short) flashbacks, as if it considers them side-cuts. It’s a dangerous ploy, as you definitely need to care for its characters, but Knock at the Cabin sidesteps the issue by making everyone – including the antagonists – empathetic. Part of that is down to the performances, with Dave Bautista the stand-out (his Leonard is someone you’d want a drink with, but you’d keep an eye on the exits) and Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge surmount the harder task of making you care for victims who want to avoid the unfolding action.
But the real reason that Knock at the Cabin can be so immediate is down to its killer premise. Although it develops into a plot that we’re not going to reveal, it starts as something familiar: a home-invasion (or cabin-invasion, we suppose). It’s just that the invaders are normal people without a bad bone in their body. That’s the ‘what if?’ that M. Night Shyamalan initially toys with: what if polite, affable people had to do terrible things? The confusion and hand-wringing that goes on when mild-mannered people do extreme things is tense, and creates some great moments.
Dave Bautista is full of apologies and calm exposition; Nikki Amuka-Bird (Sabrina) is tearful regret as she heals the victims’ wounds; Rupert Grint (Redmond), is all grumbles and impatience. Most importantly, the four characters convince that their cult, group or whatever they belong to is a benevolent one, and their ends, regrettably, justify their means.
The victims in Knock at the Cabin are legitimately skeptical, which leads to the second of Knock at the Cabin’s knockout punches: it pulls the Old Testament off the shelf. There have to be consequences to that skepticism, and the victims need to become believers. Which is where we absolutely stop. There is no way we’re putting a toe over the imaginary line in front of us: you are just going to have to watch to find out more. But know that it’s got a Signs-like skill at making the world outside of a boxy room feel like the scariest thing imaginable.
That immediate jump into the action in the first act does have some casualties, however. Knock at the Cabin has no chill, offering very little in the way of sunshine or pace-breaks into its flow. When we watched with our partner, she found it unnecessarily, constantly tense and eventually lost patience with the movie. There is definitely an argument that Knock at the Cabin is unflinchingly bleak, covers some violent (although often unseen) interactions, and doesn’t often offer hope. In places it can feel nihilistic, with very little hope for humanity. Whether you can stomach the tough topics and tougher tension will determine whether you get much from Knock at the Cabin.
There’s also a Dana Scully-shaped hole that you’ll have to leap over too. In The X-Files, she was notoriously skeptical even in the face of aliens twerking in front of her, and there are characters in Knock at the Cabin that have a similar approach to the unlikely. Even when presented with all the evidence, they still raise an eyebrow, and that becomes critical to the flow of the plot. You might consider the skepticism to be manipulative and there simply to drive the plot forward, and you’d be well within your rights. You have to manually shake that feeling, because there’s an effective experience to be had here.
There are few directors like an on-form M. Night Shyamalan, as he is capable of using the highest of high concepts to burn images into your retinas. Think of the local news segment in Signs, and you have similar levels of disquietude. Like a slightly lower-shelf Jordan Peele, M. Night Shyamalan can make you awestruck and unsettled at the same time. For that reason alone, we were happy that we sat down to watch Knock at the Cabin.
Is Knock at the Cabin worth the £15.99 that it currently costs to rent on the Xbox Store, or the £19.99 to buy it? That’s a knotty question that dives into the questionable pricing structure of modern movies. But we regretted nothing, as Knock at the Cabin noisily stole into our living room and held us captive for a couple of hours. Like most M. Night Shyamalan movies, you have to check some believability at the door, and it’s got a questionable mean streak, but there’s no forgetting some of the places where his contorting plot ends up.
You can watch KNock at the Cabin from the Film & TV section of the Xbox Store
Over the next few weeks, we are going to be trying something new: we’re going to be reviewing some of the new releases in the Xbox Film and TV Store. Let us know what you make of these features in the comments below.
- Straight into the action
- As usual, a high-concept Shyamalan plot
- Some strong, empathetic performances
- Hugely memorable moments
- Unrelentingly grim and tense
- Some moments of disbelief
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH
- Running time - 1hr 40mins
- Release date - 2023
- To rent - £15.99 SD, HD
- To buy - £19.99 SD, HD